How To Make It As A Fashion Designer

how to make it as a fashion designer

Yesterday we had the pleasure of sitting in on a Wall Street Journal Spreecast with designers Rebecca Minkoff, Mara Hoffman, and Danielle Snyder of Dannijo.  It was an hour long question and answer segment that offered some notable insight for emerging  designers.

Key Take Aways from How To Make It As A Fashion Designer

  • Rebecca Minkoff attended only one semester of FIT, worked 3 years for Craig Taylor, then started her own business
  • Celebrity attention was a big part of the success for all three of these designers
  • Important skills other than technical: sales, bill collecting, event planning, finance, e-commerce, social media, blogging, understanding how to create your own language and voice for your brand. 
  • Forget the glamour, focus on being business savvy.  Do every single part of your business in the beginning in order to learn.  Once your business is at the point for delegating, you will have a solid understanding of how the business runs from all aspects.
  • Get uncomfortable.  You will inevitably be in situations that take you out of your comfort zone.  That’s imperative in order to grow. 
  • Social media is essential. Talk to your consumer and use social media as a way to be as close to your costumer as possible. Allow them to know you.
  • Give your brand a voice, a face, and a spirit.
  • How the designers first reached out to buyers: begging and pleading.  They  went store to store with a bag of their clothing, asking the buyer to give them just 5 minutes.  You must have the “nothing to lose” attitude. But find the balance between being annoying and effective.
  • Accept rejection and embarrassment.  You have to be fearless. This is not easy.
  • On finding the money to start their brands: focus on no or low overhead. No studio or office, use your apartment.  Plug every cent you make in the beginning into your company. Know that it will take a very long time to see profit, live like a “church mouse”.  After you start to get orders and show a track record, banks may offer lines of credit. (Mara Hoffman)
  • Dannijo combined a small family loan and their own savings for a total of forty thousand dollars. They worked on consignment in the beginning in order to get more stores. The best entrepreneurs understand how to be scrappy and prioritize where the money goes.  It’s scary and risky. 
  • Rebecca Minkoff had a personal savings of ten thousand dollars. Though she was not smart with her money, spending  $2,000 on a photo shoot and other things.  She eventually managed to get a family loan when she was at the point of not being able to pay her rent. To this day, the business remains thrifty.
  • On reaching magazine editors: search the mastheads, do your research, and just start emailing. Celebrity endorsement is important but so is editorial placement.
  • On hiring public relations firms: all three designers did everything themselves, along with interns, until they were profitable.
  • No showrooms, knocked on doors themselves in order to get new accounts.
  • How to determine what collaborations are right for your brand: the appreciate the brand’s values and they have a complimentary aesthetic. It’s easy to say yes to every opportunity but in the end it can hurt you.
  • Once you’re ready to hire help, find people who know the things you don’t (i.e. numbers person). Fill in your weaknesses.
  • No typical days. The job always changes.
  • Wear your stuff, start locally, get opinions, offer your collection to a boutique on consignment in order to collect market research.  This is an excellent way to get feedback and learn about your customer.
  • Over time, the goal is to build a brand DNA
  • Tough love: you have to be able to put your entire soul and other people’s souls into the business. You’re on call all of the time and you will  not see people for weeks on end, you will miss holidays. You need to have a very high level of focus.
Nicole Giordano

Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online resource and community supporting for independent designers around the world with building their businesses. A deep love for the craft of fashion paired with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION, where she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love. More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!

  1. rupali

    I just love what you are doing … it helps new brands to do things right:).
    I have a question and it’s extremely important for me at this stage of the business . I am in the process of getting people aware of my brand in india . I am looking to add members to my team but I am really unsure on what team to build , I have hired a PR firm so marketing is taken care of but sales is an issue we r facing since our brand is new , shall I hire a sales person or a merchandiser or some one else , how do I place my products in different stores, how do I know about buyers basically how do I approach them … for all this do I need a team? business development bit exists in fashion? .. I am so confused . how do I move ahead from where I am already .

  2. becky

    I find these information very useful. Thank you very much, I have always been thinking of where and how to start up and thought I needed to be fully prepared and now I know better. I’m a fashion designer based in Nigeria and I have learned a lot today. No more fear, I now know I don’t to get a showroom of large rented apartment to start. I’m starting now right in my apartment.

  3. Ritu

    This is a very encouraging article. There is definitely light beyond the tunnel. These 4 designers have gone through the highs and lows but kept on pushing. I’m a designer starting out in Atlanta and this encourages me that take all the risk I’m taking. And not be scared of failing. Great article. Please keep posting articles like these for us newbies in this business…it keeps us going! I’m heading to NYC can I make an appointment with Start up?

  4. Cynthia

    I have to say the pointers in this article were very right-on. I like that you didnt sprinkle a lot of sugar on these cookies. I’ve heard such silly remarks as “your gonna get a lot of no’s before you get a yes. Once again, you have taken a lot of the fluff out of the stuff and told it like it is. This article rocks!

  5. Yolanda

    This was extremely helpful! I have been trying to figure out how to start my line and everything I looked at has not been as helpful as this. This has helped me out a lot tremendously especially since I live in Oklahoma a state that’s not quick to pick up on things as in other states.

  6. Melanie Isett

    This is the best article I have read, anywhere, on starting a fashion brand. There are a lot of things that can make a company fail, but only a few things to make it successful. This hits upon every single point & validates my strategy — now to continue on being passionate, persistent, and patient!

    • Nicole Giordano

      Thank you so much, Melanie! Your comment has made my Monday. I’m so glad you like the article. 🙂

  7. Tarsha

    Very helpful! I was wondering if i should hire pr, thanks for sharing!

  8. Angie

    Such a great post! Every bit of it rings true on some level for me. My two favorite lines, “Get uncomfortable. You will inevitably be in situations that take you out of your comfort zone. That’s imperative in order to grow.” And “Accept rejection and embarrassment. You have to be fearless. This is not easy.” I am glad to hear that this is more of a norm and I am not the only one that is feeling this more often than I would like to admit! Thank you!!

  9. Dani

    I love the article! It’s bold and comprehensive. However, I would like to know more about ideal team composition for fashion startup, i.e. what are the crucial skills that must exist as early as possible in the founding team

  10. Robert

    Thanx for the great feed.It was highly positive and useful,especially at this very moment of my brand prelaunch and VC hunt.I was really surprised to know of the rocky road and pain those icons have been through.Keep feeding us ,this sort of info gives lots of value and positive impact. Thanx again StartUpFashion.

  11. Rochelle

    I was surprised to hear that none of the designers used PR firms! I guess using interns to handle parts of the marketing & PR strategy is cost efficient and creates natural brand advocates I am working on a custom design blazer line myself and found this to be a great summary and a great inspiration!

  12. Candice

    I thought this was very helpful and I will continue on the road that Im one…with the exception of getting more capital to fund my business 🙂

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